ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos’ new coaching staff is still learning about their roster.
“A lot of these guys I didn’t know a lot about,” head coach Sean Payton said after Tuesday’s practice.
Without much prior knowledge, Payton is starting his players out on equal footing and letting them prove themselves.
“We’re going to go by what we see,” he said. “It’d be silly for us to do anything else.”
The evaluations leveled up this week, as the team wore pads during practice for the first time on Monday and again on Tuesday.
“There’s always been a few players who look different in pads, and they play differently,” head coach Sean Payton said. “It’s interesting.”
As of Tuesday, the Broncos are one-third of the way through training camp and exactly four weeks away from cut-down day.
“We’ve got a lot of reps ahead of us, a lot of preseason work ahead of us, scrimmage games, preseason games,” Payton said. “It’s good to see them in the actual game-like tempo and dress that they’re going to be evaluated and play in.”
Here’s what went down on Tuesday…
- OLB Frank Clark was in attendance but didn’t participate in practice after missing Monday.
- CB Riley Moss was absent for a second consecutive day. On Monday, Sean Payton called his absence a “club decision.”
- G Quinn Meinerz missed a few reps during team drills and left practice with a trainer 10 minutes early. Payton said he wasn’t injured.
- LT Garett Bolles did not participate fully in team drills. The Broncos plan to rest him occasionally as he returns from a broken leg.
- LB Jonas Griffith came up limping after the final rep of kick coverage drills. Trainers helped him off the field.
Russ makes the play of camp
The Broncos’ starting offense has left plenty to be desired through the first week of camp, but it set a new high-water mark on Tuesday.
In the final team period of the day, Russell Wilson unleashed a deep ball up the sideline to Courtland Sutton. Pat Surtain II was in perfect coverage, but Sutton boxed him out and reeled the pass in. The play happened on the other side of the facility, so I don’t know for sure, but in an interview with NFL Network’s James Palmer after practice, Sutton hinted that he might have brought the ball in with one hand. Regardless, the 35-yard gain was the best of camp for the starting offense.
Unfortunately, the rest of the practice didn’t go so well for Wilson.
As has been the case for most of camp, the bulk of Wilson’s attempts were short passes and checkdowns. Javonte Williams caught one for a three-yard gain. Sutton caught one. Jerry Jeudy caught one on a quick out past Damarri Mathis.
As has also been the case throughout camp, the pressure was constant. Zach Allen beat Quinn Meinerz for a sack, while Nik Bonitto spun past Garett Bolles to provide more pressure. Allen also had a batted ball at the line of scrimmage when Wilson tried to hit an open Jeudy sitting a few yards behind him.
The low point during team drills was on the second play, when Wilson tried to hit a receiver on a dig route, but Justin Simmons crashed in from his free safety position to pick the pass off.
Wilson’s big play to Sutton was stellar, but the mistake neutralized it. The rest of his day was ho-hum.
Justin Simmons continues
As mentioned above, Justin Simmons made the defensive play of the day. It wasn’t easy, though.
Simmons was playing the deep middle of the field and the crossing route was only about 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Simmons saw the play developing and charged forward to undercut the receiver and make the play. You can’t really blame Wilson for the throw because a safety had no business getting into position in time.
The interception was the third interception Simmons has forced in four open practices. He picked off a pass on an out route intended for Jerry Jeudy on Saturday. He contested a deep ball to Greg Dulcich on Thursday and tipped it to Caden Sterns, who hauled it in.
Sometimes interceptions are fluky, but all of the turnovers Simmons has forced have been great plays. He’s playing the best ball of his career.
The offense has struggled to find any chunk gains so far, in part because Simmons is roaming the backend of the Broncos defense. Throw in Pat Surtain covering the boundary and all of a sudden there isn’t much real estate left. Maybe the offense doesn’t deserve all of the blame it has gotten so far in camp.
Jonathon Cooper keeps balling
Justin Simmons might be the star of camp, but Jonathon Cooper is the breakout star of camp.
On Tuesday, he blew up a run on the second play of team drills. He blew another in 9-on-7s. He had a pressure when he beat Cam Fleming around the edge, who had a rough day of practice. On the very next play, Cooper blew up another run, and this one was the most impressive.
Cooper lined up on the left, and the Broncos ran a toss to the right. The 25-year-old linebacker chased the play down from the backside and wrapped the running back up.
Montrell makes a big play
Russell Wilson and Courtland Sutton connected for the best play of camp for the first-team offense, but Ben DiNucci and Montrell Washington connected for the best play of camp for the offense as a hole.
Washington ran a post against Devon Key. While DiNucci stepped up in a clean pocket, Washington had plenty of time to take the post all the way across the field. DiNucci lobbed the deep ball up after the 24-year-old receiver created a few steps of separation. It was slightly underthrown, but Washington tracked the ball well, caught it and turned upfield for a walk-in touchdown.
Washington has had a quiet camp to this point, but his highlight-reel play on Tuesday could serve as a springboard.
- Aaron Patrick fought through a Greg Dulcich block to corral an outside run during 9-on-7s.
- Jerry Jeudy beat Pat Surtain on a dig in one-on-ones. The drill gives a massive advantage to the offensive player. Jeudy also beat Damarri Mathis on a deep out.
- Faion Hicks put the clamps on Kendall Hinton on a go route. He played tight coverage on two other reps but both probably would have drawn holding calls.
- Damarri Mathis locked up Courtland Sutton in a one-on-one rep.
- Ja’Quan McMillian broke up a pass to Taylor Grimes in one-on-ones. Grimes beat Art Green on a deep corner later in the drill and beat Grimes again on an out route that would have gone for a big gain up the sideline in team drills.
- Faion Hicks had a sack on a nickel blitz.
- Nate Adkins buried Marcus Haynes on a block.
- Matt Henningsen sniffed out a screen.
- Greg Dulcich made a one-handed catch in the flat.
- Mike McGlinchey false started.
- Thomas Incoom had his first sack of camp, beating Demontrey Jacobs.
- Ben DiNucci showed off his legs, as he often does.